Word Poetry

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Sample Poems by Richard Newman



Coins


My change: a nickel caked with finger grime;
two nicked quarters not long for this life, worth
more for keeping dead eyes shut than bus fare;
a dime, shining in sunshine like a new dime;
grubby pennies, one stamped the year of my birth,
no brighter than I from 40 years of wear.

What purses, piggy-banks, and window sills
have these coins known, their presidential heads
pinched into what beggar’s chalky palm—
they circulate like tarnished red blood cells,
all of us exchanging the merest film
of our lives, and the lives of those long dead.

And now my turn in the convenience store,
I hand over my fist of change, still warm,
to the bored, lip-pierced check-out girl, once more
to be spun down cigarette machines, hurled
in fountains, flipped for luck—these dirty charms
chiming in the dark pockets of the world.



Crossing Schlensker Ditch

Between Schlensker Ditch and Bosch Ditch
on 41 South, between brown fields, where
in North by Northwest the crop duster chased
Cary Grant over brittle corn stubble,
where rusty fences slouch drunkenly
into a gray horizon, a scrawl of trees—
home is a land that offers no return.
Hitchcock picked it for its stunning bleakness.
Even the long band of blackbirds, thick
as gnats and stretching over a hundred acres,
reluctantly touches down here and there
to pick through a few splintered kernels
then slowly billows over the highway, south,
to leave this area so lost, so lacking
monuments the people name the ditches.
The only populations that increase
are cemetery, prison, and hog factory.
A few miles north, Santa Claus Land crumbles
back to meadow. Barns collapse slow-motion.
Abandoned trailers snooze along dirt roads.
My young daughter and I also migrate
for the holiday, muttering our thanks
we no longer live here in Gibson County,
picking over a dead bird’s bones,
picking through the best of my childhood
as we leave with boxes of books and games,
a few pictures, a tuneless ukulele,
and as we finally head back home, due west,
returning to this land who knows when,
the wind finds a small opening in the car,
its long finger pricking under my skin.



Mowing

    Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
    Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

        —classic Zen poem from the Zenrin Kushu

I’m no Buddhist, but I know enough of lawns
to say the grass grows by itself even
when I’m not sitting quietly. Take now,
for example: I’m in a terrible mood, full
of so much desire and April cruelty
I could wash away the four noble truths,
and, almost as I mow, the new growth
pushes against my chloroplasted shoes.
Even as a child visiting Virginia,
I gazed down picnic-perfect battlefields
and guessed that before the last cannonballs
burst and the last dying soldiers cried
their mothers’ names into the air, the grass
was already swarming back up the bloody hills,
as it now goes about its green business
with entrepreneurial zeal, cracking sidewalks
and dishevelling my brick patio.
And when my daughter swings in our back yard,
crying, “Watch me, Daddy! Look how high!”
I look up from the mower as she launches
into the leafy arms of the trees, the whole
swingset heaving, then swoops back down again,
her bare feet riffling over the blades,
grass I scattered with my own two fists,
and I know—sitting, standing, quiet or not—
that as she grows there’s nothing I can do.



Shadows

We flit in corners of your eyes
and vanish when you turn to look,
faster than the black crow flies.
You strain over your open book
through dying light to make us out—
those childish hopes you haven’t snuffed?
A forgotten little flock of doubts?
A pack of qualms, B-movie stuff,
dark secrets and their trains of guilt,
the luckless spirit of a dead friend?
Turn off the light, crawl under a quilt—
we lie in wait for the day to end
and take the shapes that you presume
when cast like night across your room.